Recently, Mukunoki Ayumi gave me a tour of Kuboco, the construction and roof garden company where she works in Shitamachi. She graduated from Nodai, where I am a research fellow. The meeting took place thanks to Edgy Japan‘s Yanigasawa Hiroki. I immediately recognized the building when I spotted the incredible wisteria that is trellised across one building and climbs to the top of the adjoining 8 story building, where it provides rooftop shade on a trellis structure. Mukunoki-san told me that the vine is just eight years old and very vigorous!
Kuboco designs roof gardens and vertical gardens for commercial and retail buildings as well as residences. Since they are a construction company, they are able to combine garden design and maintenance with structural engineering, water-proofing, and retrofitting trellises for vines and vertical gardens onto older buildings.
Mukunoki-san reports seeing a shift from roof lawns to vegetables in Tokyo. She attributes this to customers wanting less maintenance and greater value from their outdoor spaces. Kabuco has roof gardens on both of its buildings, one a more social space and the other full of experiments with soil depth and new vegetables. Kuboco is very hands-on in providing advice about how to build roof gardens and what to grow. Mukunoki-san explained that last summer she grew tumeric because one of her clients wanted to grow it. On my visit, I saw blueberries, carrots, onions, parsley and other food on their demonstration gardens, and admired how they are testing out what can grow in 5, 10, 20, and 25 cm deep soil boxes. And for a while Kuboco’s roof garden provides fresh vegetables to a local onigiri restaurant.
She also introduced me to the Japanese term for “local food”: 地産地消 (chisanchishou, locally produced and locally consumed, with the first and third kanji being the word soil).
The 8 year old wisteria looks like it’s been on this building for much longer. It blooms best when trained horizontally.
I would love to try blueberries, too. It would be so satisfying to eat fresh blueberries, rather than the supermarket ones that have travelled from as far as Chile.
I first saw these vines a month ago on a nearby sidewalk. They are growing in plastic buckets with an elaborate plastic twine trellis supported by a tree branch. Initially I misidentified them as morning glory. Recently, I saw how tall and thick the vines had become, and that they are in fact bitter melon, with vegetables ready to eat. The shop owner saw me taking these photos, and seemed very proud of his summer edible garden on a busy street.
I have started to notice all over Tokyo that people are creating makeshift plastic rope trellises for summer morning glory vines. This one near my home is particularly ingenious: the trellis wraps around two blue buckets containing the vines, and the rope is looped over the street tree. A zig-zag pattern is added for extra support.
Is this a new trend? I am looking forward to watching these plants grow this summer.
UPDATE: One month later, the vines cover the trellis, and I realize that it’s bitter melon, not morning glory. The vegetables are ready to eat.
Several neighboring houses have grape vines that are old and productive. I saw this green-tinged grape trellis on my way to the sento one night recently.
Typhoon #18 last week knocked down our twine trellis. It’s a good thing that our friend warned us to prepare the garden for the gusty wind: bringing some plants inside, and placing others on the balcony floor closest to the building. We easily rehung the Okinawa morning glory, and I was amazed that this late-in-the-season bitter melon survived intact.
On a prominent corner of Gaien-nishi Douri in Aoyama is this six story mixed use building with a vertical rose garden called Aoyama Art Works. On one side is all extra tall glass windows and a ground floor Specialized bike shop. On one of the smaller trapazoidal sides, framing the entry way, is a wall of yellow roses with incredibly thick vines.
On close examination, the metal trellis structure also supports additional planter pots on the higher floors. The effect, however, is of one giant rose bush. It must look spectacular in full bloom. This is an impressive example of how a gigantic garden can be created with less than half a meter of depth on the sidewalk.